I hear it in so many ways. “She lost the baby,” they say. Sometimes the father tells us. Sometimes it’s the best friend. She catches important people one by one and drops the sadness in their laps. Sometimes it’s another friend, two steps away from gossip: “Oh my gosh, did you hear?” Sometimes my husband gets it from someone else, and he’s the one who has to break the news. She lost the baby. She started bleeding and didn’t stop. They don’t know what caused it; they told her to stay off her feet.
I never hear it from the mother. She’s at home, in bed. Or she’s pushing through daily life as best she can, avoiding anyone and anything that reminds her of her pregnancy—her zygote, her embryo, her fetus, her spontaneous abortion, miscarriage. The medical jargon cuts, not heals.
I’d been lucky. I’d shared the joy in Callie’s pregnancy. I was 12 weeks pregnant, already round with my son, and spotted her in the line at Trader Joe’s. “I’m pregnant!” she shouted over the din of cashiers and carts and children. I laughed from sheer happiness and ran through the chaos of checkout lines, hugged her the kind of hug that sways back and forth with joy. Our babies would be only a few weeks apart. We’d be pregnant together.
I soaked up news about due dates, and we talked about winter babies (she didn’t have the right clothes for one). We compared baby carriers. She detailed hospitals and doctors, interventions and epidurals. We wondered how her daughter would react to a new sibling? Would she love on the baby or try to sell him on the street corner?
Every time I saw her, I posed the perennial question for pregnant women: How are you feeling? An opening, really, for her to marvel at and complain about her changing body. I commiserated with exhaustion, with hurting hips. I exclaimed over the tiniest of bumps. We talked names. Already, I was imagining Callie’s baby.
What is pregnancy but the distillation of possibility? We joke about the baby growing up to cure cancer or walk on the moon. We invent a thousand careers: priest, doctor, lawyer, artist. But more than this big picture, I had already begun to imagine Callie’s child moving through our small universe. He would be seven weeks younger than my youngest son. They would be in the same grade. He is my son’s best friend, I thought.
And then he was gone. Her husband broke the news to us. Callie was far enough along to need a D&C and time to rest and recover. I curled over my growing belly and sobbed. She had lost her baby. And my son had lost his best friend. No longer could I slot her child into the line-up of kids; no longer could I imagine sleepovers and stick-fights. He was gone.
My grief should not co-opt Callie’s. But the mothers of miscarried babies need to know: We are grateful to you. We are grateful to share the joy of your pregnancy. You are part of us; we build our stories around your growing child. But just as we share joy, we share some small part of the loss. This grief is an honor, a burden, a gift. We, too, feel the pain of the missing.
There is a picture, somewhere, from my son’s baptism. Three of us pose before a fireplace. I cradle my 1-month-old son. Stephanie holds her 6-month belly. And Anne—the oldest among us, the grayest among us—she holds her flat belly tentatively, gently. She is 46. And after a lifetime of infertility, she is pregnant.
Along with the joyful news, Anne confessed the bad: They didn’t think the baby would make it. Her numerous health problems made it difficult to carry a pregnancy. But right now, in these magic moments, she had become a mother. Something she never thought to be, something she never dared hope for. She and her husband had long given up on children. But they would not give up on their baby. Every moment she lived gave the grace of parenthood.
Though they knew the baby may not make it, though Anne was perilously early in her pregnancy, she and her husband told everyone. It was such a gift to share in that wide-eyed, almost magical joy; a gift to talk to her husband about baby wraps; a gift to ask Anne how she was feeling; a gift to joke that they should name the baby Isaac, after the Biblical child of long-barren Sarah. The miracle of parenthood had come upon them, and they celebrated.
Anne’s baby would be eight months younger than my son. Two different grades, I thought, but they’d still play together at brunches, at church parties. She’d come along when Joseph and Anne babysat for us.
They decided their baby was a girl. They named her Miriam.
And then she was gone from us.
Everyone knew the likely outcome, but we mourned in proportion to our joy. Because Joseph and Anne had shared their happiness so widely, they had a community supporting and loving them with open arms. I cried. I worried my 2-month-old would be a terrible reminder of their loss. I had to let go of all my dreams for Miriam, of teaching Joseph to use a Moby wrap, of Miriam and my son Blaise chasing each other. We mouthed the standard “I’m sorry”s. They felt stale and hollow.
I still think about those babies. Callie got pregnant soon after, but her son is seven months younger than mine, not seven weeks. They’ll still be in the same grade. But still, I feel they won’t have the bond shared by my son and the baby who came before. I miss him for my son. I miss the experience of him, the shared pregnancies and pictures. He lives, still, as an ache in his mother’s heart, as an ache in mine.
Joseph and Anne keep their only picture of Miriam taped to their refrigerator, an 8-week ultrasound. They tell everyone who asks: That’s our daughter. I see her whenever I go looking for eggs or creamer. And I slot Miriam in between the kids—younger than my oldest, older than my middle son. She would turn five this year. I see her picking dandelions with them. I see her on her father’s lap. I make a point to tell him, because he is the kind of man you can tell: “We miss her, Joseph.”